Carroll vs Craig

by Matthew Cobb

Over at, Sean Carroll has posted videos of his debate with William Lane Craig at the 2014 Greer-Heard Forum. Here’s the whole event for your delectation (the first 10:30 minutes are ads, so you can skip them):

h/t Dan McPeek


  1. Dan McPeek
    Posted February 28, 2014 at 11:57 am | Permalink

    For those that go to the YOU TUBE site (only),here is the next day panel discussion.

    • Dan McPeek
      Posted February 28, 2014 at 12:06 pm | Permalink

      Video DOES exist cuz I just watched it.
      Let me try again.

      If it says (again), ‘doesn’t exist’, it is available @ Mr Carroll’s site.

  2. Posted February 28, 2014 at 12:34 pm | Permalink

    Here’s the debate with all of the intermissions removed and youtube
    comments and ratings turned on:

    • Posted February 28, 2014 at 4:30 pm | Permalink

      Thanks very much for posting this. I saw only the Q&A on youtube and I was waiting for this.

  3. Larry Gay
    Posted February 28, 2014 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

    I barely got through the first minute of WLC, but couldn’t take any more. My hat is off to Sean and Jerry and Bill Nye for wading through all the horsescheisse.

  4. Posted February 28, 2014 at 12:45 pm | Permalink

    Sean, as always, is always worth listening to. It’s safe to fast-forward through Craig’s bloviating; all he does is spew technobabble that’d be right at home in Star Trek, except he gets the science even more worng.



    • Posted March 3, 2014 at 10:42 am | Permalink

      And Star Trek at least at its best has redeeming value; WLC is just a crank.

  5. chband
    Posted February 28, 2014 at 2:03 pm | Permalink

    Dr Carroll did a very good job here. More interesting than Nye/Ham’s debate, I have to say.

    • Posted March 1, 2014 at 5:23 am | Permalink

      It’s the first time I heard Carroll in debate. I feel he is the equal of anyone, save Hitchens. I really liked his approach in trying to convert the thinking of his religious opponents instead of just proving them utterly wrong. “Winning” such debates to me is in convincing the fence-sitters, and seriously unsettling the religiously certain. Carroll did this with aplomb and with great courtesy – a winning combination indeed.

  6. quiscalus
    Posted February 28, 2014 at 2:04 pm | Permalink

    Speaking of debates, there’s an article on page 3 of the Kansas City Star newspaper about how the Ham-Nye debates have revived interest and increased donations for Ham’s ark project. Nye may have gotten some good licks in during the debate but it looks like its evolution that will suffer the from the wounds after all.

    • mordacious1
      Posted February 28, 2014 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

      I saw that on Yahoo yesterday. I think it is just Ham trying to put a positive spin on the total spanking he got from Nye. He won’t give any numbers on how much money’s been received, so we don’t really know if he is lying. Not that he would ever lie about a thing like that. The proof will be when the darn thing is completed…or not. Nye responded by saying he wants to see the thing float when it’s done.

      • lanceleuven
        Posted March 1, 2014 at 2:48 am | Permalink

        “Nye responded by saying he wants to see the thing float when it’s done”

        Hah! Brilliant response! 🙂

  7. Shawn Beaulieu
    Posted February 28, 2014 at 3:04 pm | Permalink

    I was very pleased with Sean Carroll’s performance. It was a glorious mixture of precision, wit, and humor. However, I was disappointed that so little time was spent explaining the models that were discussed, which undoubtedly worked in Craig’s favor.

  8. Alex
    Posted February 28, 2014 at 3:54 pm | Permalink

    WLC gives me a headache

  9. Filippo
    Posted February 28, 2014 at 3:57 pm | Permalink

    Ah’m gonna watch hit, but first prime the Craig Tolerance Pump with a good, stiff drink of likker.

  10. Void
    Posted February 28, 2014 at 4:23 pm | Permalink

    Wow, Sean destroyed him. I love how he called out Craig on his inaccuracies and poor contextualizations; in particular Craig’s fundamental misunderstandings and deliberate ignorance. Bravo, Dr. Carrol.

  11. Posted February 28, 2014 at 4:26 pm | Permalink

    Craig’s unembodied mind crap, objective moral duties crap, and necessary being crap are deeply rooted in scatological ontology.

    • Void
      Posted February 28, 2014 at 4:34 pm | Permalink

      Isn’t he a pain to watch? I was gritting my teeth so hard when it was his turn. I think I may have to get a root canal now…

  12. Steven Obrebski
    Posted February 28, 2014 at 4:47 pm | Permalink

    A most interesting and informative debate which opened the door for me to what cosmologists are dealing with and doing and the lack of relevance of the theistic arguments. Thanks for the post.

  13. Posted February 28, 2014 at 4:55 pm | Permalink

    At 1:43 Sean explains free-will as an emergent phenomenon, emerging from a “mechanical” human body that consist of physical particles in complex ways.

    Then he uses comparison to the concept of “baseball”, it is not specifically explained by elementary physics, but it clearly exist, the word define something (and useful).

    That’s it, only Sean did not elaborate on what the complexity is.

    That complexity (that raises the emergence, gives out a concept of something non-predictable or indeterministic) is the the key, not the fact that the universe is deterministic or that there is a possibility that gods exist.

    The PhD question is the modeling of human brain, not philosophical discussion on the merits or incompato / compatos.

    I skimmed the debate, yes Sean Carroll is better than Nye in conciseness and delivery (humor). Craig is so dense, a real specimen for Sophisticated Theologian (TM) very high level of layman-confusability ..

  14. Diane G.
    Posted February 28, 2014 at 5:10 pm | Permalink


  15. Darth Dog
    Posted February 28, 2014 at 5:47 pm | Permalink

    Considering that the conventional wisdom is “don’t debate WLC – he’ll win on technique not content”, I thought that Sean did an awesome job. He came across as more polished, more in command of the subject, and more confident. What surprised me was that there were a few times when WLC just seemed at a loss for words and finally could only stammer “but, but the universe couldn’t have just popped out of nothing!”.

    And the Annie Hall moment with Alan Guth was priceless.

    • Posted February 28, 2014 at 8:12 pm | Permalink

      Knowing who Sean Carroll is (his expertise), I think WLC is as stupid as Ken Ham against Bill Nye, to debate Sean in cosmology with what he knows (Kalam?).

      This is another lopsided match, only that WLC is much smoother operator than Ham.
      I wonder why WLC not attack Sean on other front outside of cosmology (or is the kalam-things his only arsenal? is this true?)

      Actually atheist debates are not bad..

  16. Vaal
    Posted February 28, 2014 at 9:40 pm | Permalink

    I’ve only started watching the debate but the first thing that grabbed my attention is Craig’s set up for his argument, where he emphasizes he isn’t trying to “prove” God’s existence, and that certainty isn’t a requirement of knowledge. “Too many people mistakenly equate knowledge with certainty.”


    And yet whenever Craig is on the defense in his debates, especially when it comes to the Problem of Suffering, where there is prima facie evidence or warrant to think the types of suffering we see do not indicate the existence of an All Good All Powerful Creator…Craig pulls out the mere logical possibility card: “You can’t look at any instance of suffering and draw any conclusion from it, because we are mere mortals and God would be beyond our ken. God may have a morally sufficient reason for the suffering that we can’t know.”

    So suddenly THEN Craig puts the unreasonable “you can’t PROVE it’s not true” move on his opponent. But when it suits him, he’ll happily lighten his own burden.


  17. Posted March 1, 2014 at 2:11 am | Permalink

    The problem that Caroll has, in this argument, is that the universe did arise in some way (obviously) and that we don’t know the details. That gap then makes it trivially easy for Craig to insert a God as the explanation, since obviously an omnipotent being that is capable of doing anything *could* have done it.

    I’m not sure what the title of this debate was, but Craig then usually (as he does here) adopts the position that modern cosmology makes the existence of a deity more probable and that “fine tuning” suggests a good god (this is very weak).

    All this makes Craig’s position very easy to defend (particularly since people tend to intuitively favour teleological explanations), since he’s essentially just taking the gap and saying a deity *could* have filled it. And that is true! But the real question, that science is trying to answer, is not what *could* have filled it, but what actually did fill it (Was it an anthropomorphic entity with a son called Jesus, for instance?). And Craig’s arguments don’t have anything to contribute in narrowing down the possibilities there.

    • Posted March 1, 2014 at 3:28 am | Permalink

      Correction: As Carroll point out the universe *could* be eternal. But Craig uses that to his advantage: The implication is that if he can show (or come up with some obfuscatory argument) that certain cosmological models, such as ones where the universe had a beginning, are more likely than ones where the universe is eternal, that then that makes the existence of some *undefined* creator “more likely”. Certainly we can say that the concept of a creator in eternal models is redundant and so it’s trivially true that a creator (some process that generates universe…) is “more likely” if the universe had a beginning.

      • Posted March 1, 2014 at 4:47 am | Permalink

        Craig has no sound argument at all for the increased “likelihood” of theism over a natural origin of the universe. In fact, if there are multiverses (and we have no idea of their “probability”), the likelihood of theism is drastically reduced.

        Besides, what is the “probability” of God existing eternally? Perhaps God had a beginning as well (and don’t define God as “the one thing in the universe that didn’t require a beginning, for that is weaselling.

        Roqoco, I presume that you are a believer and, if so, I must ask you, as is customary on this site, to give us the evidence that makes you believe that God exists. If you’re an atheist, you don’t have to answer (but of course if you are a believer and say otherwise, you’ll have committed a sin).

        • Posted March 1, 2014 at 5:56 am | Permalink

          No, I’m not a theist (or supporter of woo in any shape or form) and no fan of Craig’s either. I was just pointing out how Craig’s arguments are meant to work in the cases where he tries to use cosmological arguments – i.e. he wants to claim that it is “likely” that the universe had a beginning and then deduce from that that a creator is “more likely” (more likely than what?). This type of argumentation has a history in that the pope of the time proposed it to Lemaitre, and Lemaitre’s reply was that no theistic implications should be drawn from scientific theories.

          Also, I’m not sure that Carroll and Krauss’s argumentation has much sway in the eyes of believers, since the models they propose are, of course, still tentative. I liked Caroll’s argument that God isn’t sufficiently well defined to be useful in a solution to any problem and is thus irrelevant in cosmological models (Occam’s Razor), but wasn’t sure how that would come across to believers. And arguments with cosmologists do raise the credibility of people like Craig, since to those with little scientific background it can seem like just a technical dispute.

          Personally I think it’s better to attack Craig’s actual beliefs, which are pretty crazy, rather than bandy around alternative cosmological models, which just acts to give him credibility.

      • Posted March 1, 2014 at 2:18 pm | Permalink

        One problem in these debates that you tangentially refer to is some somewhat confusing terminology — especially the word, “Universe.” Is it just the Hubble Volume? One of many multiverses? That which is within our local event horizon?

        If, instead, one addresses the question of the origin of the Cosmos, as defined by Carl Sagan (“all that ever is was, or will be; all that is real”), then Craig’s position can’t even be coherently stated.

        Is Jesus part of the Cosmos? Then the Cosmos already existed with him, and Jesus could not have created it.

        Is Jesus outside of the Cosmos? Then he is not real; he is not and never was nor will be.



        • Posted March 2, 2014 at 4:38 am | Permalink

          Agree on both counts; for multiverse models it is clearer to use the term cosmos for the totality of everything. But, not everyone uses that convention, unfortunately.

          When evaluating how the cosmos originated, difficulties emerge that are conceptually hard for us to stomach. For instance, If you ask whether your local McDonalds had a beginning or has existed forever, then it’s reasonably obvious that someone must have built it at some time. But that kind of intuition doesn’t scale up to the cosmos and it’s really hard to say what makes sense and what doesn’t, since all the options appear to be extremely weird conceptually. It’s not clear whether we will ever be able to conceptualise (in terms, say, of our everyday intuitions about cause and effect) some aspects of cosmology and quantum mechanics, except as predictive mathematical theories. That’s why, as Carroll makes clear in his presentation, cosmologists make mathematical models and the goal is not that we can understand them conceptually, but that they are consistent mathematically and take into account the restricted evidence we do have from our (possibly) very limited outlook on planet Earth.

          So the difficulty with this debate is that Carroll is arguing about what cosmology can actually do (i.e. what models are feasible and interesting), whilst Craig is making assertions about abstract entities that can have no part of the kind of models that cosmologists can actually construct. Craig: “Modern Cosmology makes the existence of God more likely”. To which Carroll’s answer is: “There are no cosmological models where the concept of God can play any explanatory part because God isn’t sufficiently well defined to be a part of a cosmological model”.

          Carroll’s point is undeniable, I think. But, Craig is able to slip around it, because, due to the debate format, he never has to define what he actually means by God and how that could be a part of some cosmological theory with any explanatory power and he can ignore Carrolls more subtle points, since the audience doesn’t understand them either. That’s why I think that if scientists debate theists, such as Craig, they need to deal directly with what those theists actually believe. It’s easy for Craig to plausibly defend some nebulous undefined god, with no specific attributes, to a largely non scientific audience, who have little comprehension of cosmology. But when you add some of the specifics of his beliefs, such as the bible, then it’s a different ball game. For instance, one of the only debates that really upset Craig’s equanimity was that vs Shelly Kagan on morality, since Kagan was able to really pin Craig down on the specifics.

          • Posted March 2, 2014 at 9:11 am | Permalink

            Thats why I think that if scientists debate theists, such as Craig, they need to deal directly with what those theists actually believe.

            I’d heartily agree…but Sean is much too nice a person to actually do that. And, honestly, I don’t think he’s got any knowledge of those beliefs more advanced nor recent than what he himself learned in Sunday School.

            That…and Craig would never agree to be in the same room with somebody who’d point out that the Bible is all about talking animals and magic wands and zombies who like their intestines fondled.

            That’s a big part of the reason why I’m still not convinced that these sorts of debates are strategically a good idea, though I do have to admit that the recent couple indicate they might be tactically advantageous.



  18. Vaal
    Posted March 1, 2014 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

    Finished watching the debate.

    Sean Carroll did a fantastic job! Even better than I’d hoped.

    I love the way he hammered home how God-as-explanation is ill-defined and useless in terms of predictions. Craig had no remotely decent rebuttal to this.

    I would love to have seen Carroll jump on Craig in the Q&A session when Craig said that theism has an “explanation” for how a universe could have arisen – a magic being with libertarian free will has the ability to, outside of time and space, simply decide to act and create, causing a universe.

    Carroll could, and I would think would simply ask “Really? How does that power work, what is your model, evidence, etc?”

    Craig’s pulling-it-out-of-his-assery would be neatly exposed.

    But Carroll did enough of that in the debate anyway to constitute a “win” over Craig IMO.


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